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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ26SW0001
NRHE Card No.NJ26SW1
NRHE Numlink 16584
HES SM No. 90142
HES LB No. 30853
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Elgin Cathedral, built on the site of the earlier Holy Trinity Church. It was founded in 1224 as the seat of the bishopric of Moray and dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Work may have begun on the cathedral before the see transferred from Spynie. It was damaged by fire in 1270, resulting in much rebuilding. The reconstruction involved extending the presbytery and adding aisles to the choir and to those already flanking the nave, producing an exceptionally wide nave that is unique in Scotland (and rare in Britain). The octagonal chapter house was also built. This church was subsequently sacked and burned by Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, in 1390, with the west window, nave arcades, and Chapter Houses were all destroyed during the fire. This was a revenge attack against Bishop Alexander Bur and necessitated considerable rebuilding. For this, Stewart did penance and contributed largely towards the rebuilding, which was a substantial exercise. It was also decided that the succeeding Bishops would contribute one third of their annual revenue until completion of the building. Work continued throughout the 15th century and included the reconstruction (1482-1501) of the vault of the chapter house. The most notable surviving feature from the 13th century rebuilding is the lofty presbytery. The east gable is pierced by many windows, with one large rose window and 10 lancet windows. The west front is framed by twin towers, which have now lost their spires, and features an ornate French style processional double doorway, surrounded by carvings and statues. Above this is the 'great west window', a large arched window consisting of a rose window above 8 narrow lancet windows. The octagonal chapter house has elegant window tracery, restored, and a ribbed vaulted ceiling supported by a central octagonal column, and is connected to the chancel by a vestibule. There are also burial vaults of bishops with stone effigies. There is a rubble wall with rounded coping enclosing the graveyard, dating from 1807. The graveyard includes the grave of John Rutledge who fought during the Napoleonic War including at the Battle of Waterloo, and who later became governor of Elgin Prison. The cathedral was in use until the Reformation, and the lead was stripped from the roof in 1568 by order of the Earl of Moray. There followed a rapid decline, with gales, storms and Cromwell's troops. In 1711, the high crossing tower collapsed into the nave. The ruins were used as a quarry for the neighbourhood until 1807, when a wall was erected round them. According to the New Statistical Account (1845) tradition suggests that stone for the cathedral came from a quarry on the south side of Quarrelwood (NJ16SE0074). The decision to introduce electricity into the chapter house, through the southeast wall of the octagonal building, prompted an excavation by Scotia Archaeology in 1996 between that building and the Brodie Aisle to its east (and south of an area investigated in 1989 to assess why rainwater would not drain away from the area between the chapter house and Brodie Aisle). Just below topsoil were two modern pits, one a sump to take rainwater from the roof of the chapter house, the other containing numerous disarticulated human remains, probably derived from burials disturbed during earlier work within the Cathedral. At a lower level were two undisturbed burials (probably medieval) which were not excavated. Remains of two east-west walls, each only 0.55 metres (1.8 feet) wide, extended below the north and south walls of the Brodie Aisle, separated by a distance of 8.5 metres (28 feet). They had been truncated by the foundations of the northeast and southeast buttresses of the chapter house, and clearly pre-dated that building. Thus far, it has proved impossible to date them more closely, or to offer an interpretation for their function. Exploratory trenches were opened within the Brodie Aisle in 1995 in an unsuccessful effort to trace the east courses of these two early walls. In addition, a watching brief was maintained during the excavation of cable trenches by Historic Scotland's DEL squad to the north of the cathedral. Nothing of archaeological interest was uncovered. A watching brief was carried out by Kirkdale Archaeology in the area immediately south of the Bishop's House in 1996. The groundworks involved two trenches being dug by machine, and then cleaned by hand. The features recorded were 20th century in date. The implications of excavating a soakaway to the south of the south tower were also investigated. After removal of topsoil and cleaning it was clear that the whole area represented disturbed ground, with seven individual graves being identifiable (including the fragment of a base for a probable table tomb), and that it would not be possible to excavate further without disturbing burials. It was decided to open a second narrow trench against the southwest angle and west face of the tower, where it was discovered that an existing modern drainage channel had been cut against the base of the tower and ran into a rubbish filled soakaway area against the bottom step. No undisturbed natural horizons were identified within the excavated areas, indicating that the whole area has been massively disturbed, probably entirely by graveyard activity. A watching brief was undertaken in December 1999 by Kirkdale Archaeology in the Cathedral Chapter House while a cable trench was dug below the flagged floor. Stained glass, possibly from the early cathedral, was found in a pit excavated in 1976 (NJ26SW0031) in advance of the construction of the relief road. A watching brief was carried out by Kirkdale Archaeology in June 2012 during excavation of a trench for a new information board. The trench uncovered made ground and disarticulated human bone, subsequently reburied. In 2014, a watching brief was maintained by Kirkdale Archaeology during the removal of an existing access ramp, and two stone steps for the installation of a new path leading from the graveyard to the south porch of the Cathedral. On removal of the existing steps it was noted that they had been made using a split sandstone grave slab from a 1724 burial. These steps were most likely installed in the late 19th century, changing the layout shown on an Ordnance Survey town plan of 1868. Other material revealed what appeared to be mixed demolition material. A significant number of masons' marks have been recorded (including by the Masons' Marks Project), a total of 194 marks of 83 different masons. Monumental inscriptions within the churchyard were recorded by the Moray Burial Ground Research Group between 2005 and 2009.
Last Update12/07/2024
Updated Bycsimpson
Date of Compilation23/11/2009

Google Map for NJ26SW0001

National Grid Reference: NJ 2219 6304

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1996 Watching-Brief
1999 Watching-Brief
2014 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-196113
2012 Watching-Brief kirkdale1-310853
2005 Survey
2006 Survey
2007 Survey
2008 Survey
2009 Survey

Excavations and Surveys

Artefact and Ecofact


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability